By Phil Brown, Reporter
The University of Nebraska at Omaha Department of Theatrebegan the second full-scale production of the academic year last week with their preview of “Freakshow,”the provocative work by Carson Kreitzer about freaks of nature, freaks of man and survival.
The play is directed by UNO professor Cindy Melby Phaneuf.
“Freakshow” tells the story of a world-weary troupe of freakshow exhibitions and exhibitioners at the turn of the century and their efforts to survive in a world growing more hostile to their act. The production is provocative; while it may seem a little crude and downright uncomfortable at times, it does a great job of forcing the audience to come to terms with concepts and positions they might not have otherwise considered.
Ringmaster Mr. Flip, played by Michael Juarez, must figure out how to remain profitable as a business; The Woman With No Arms Or Legs (Doran Schmidt) struggles to retain her dignity; and Aqua boy,The Human Salamander (Michael Judah) discovers and yearns for humanity. The plot of the play is loose, and largely unimportant, as things move along in the play not as a series of events, but more of a collection of thoughts, each one on top of the other.
The most obvious aspect of the play is the technical elements of its production, and the production team did an excellent job. While there was only one location, and one costume for each main character, the production design crew made up in quality what might have seemed lacking in quantity.
They managed to successfully cultivate a grim—yet somewhat poetic—atmosphere with the lighting and effects, the music and sound and the sets and costuming themselves, which all seemed placed perfectly in the play’s turn-of-the-century setting.
Another area where the production excelled was the acting. All the performers brought the heat when it came to Kreitzer’s monologues, with Schmidt and Juarez standing out the most as the focal point of the play.
Schmidt’s turn as The Woman WithNo Arms Or Legs is probably the most important to the play. She nailed the cynical, proud persona, delivering some of the play’s most challenging bits of monologue without flinching. Juarez was given the juiciest character in Mr. Flip, the shady ringleader who outwardly embraces his villain’s role, but privately cares for the lost soul she profits by. He tore through Mr.Flip’s caustic speeches with relish, and did most of the thematic heavy lifting for the play.
My only gripes about the production aren’t really down to the production itself. I felt the written work left a little to be desired.
While I’m not an experienced stage critic by any stretch, I did feel that Kreitzer’s script pushed at the edges of believability a little too far, and that the supporting characters in particular were given the short end of the stick.
Regardless, it was a worthy production and a great performance. Phaneuf’s team will be continuing the run this week, March 4–7, andI would wholeheartedly urge you to catch it.